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Expats and ex-expats, what are your experiences cooking overseas?


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Expats and ex-expats, what are your experiences cooking overseas?

Roland Parker | Dec 22, 2008 06:54 AM

Seven months ago, we packed up the family, sold the house in Baltimore and moved to Dubai for a work stint that will last at least three years. Before coming out here I had anticipated the challenges of cooking in an overseas country, and particularly in the Middle East. I lived in London years ago, but Dubai is a very different place.

Now that we've been here for seven months and counting, I can now look back and see how my cooking habits have changed.

First of all, I don't cook anywhere as much as I used to. We have a wonderful Sri Lankan maid who was well trained by her previous employers, a British family, and is adept at turning out simple roasts and soups and pasta dishes. Most nights we sit down to a meal prepared by her.

Second, dining out is inexpensive in Dubai when compared to the United States. Restaurants here fall into two categories: those in "New Dubai" that cater to Westerners and affluent Emiratis, and those that cater to everybody else. A meal at a New Dubai restaurant will be about 60-80% of a similar place in the United States, while the leagues of wonderful Indian and Pakistani restaurants can feed a family of four for $20 to $40. So we dine out more often than we did in the United States.

Third, while the supermarkets are as well stocked as those in the US, and my local supermarket, Spinneys, is modern, clean, attractive and stocks the traditional range of British goods, especially from Waitrose (an upmarket British supermarket), baking is a bit of a challenge. The flour from the UK is different from the standard flour or cake flour in the US, and the few times I've made pound cake or pie crust, the results have been different, if still good.

Pork is available in this muslim country, but not at restaurants. You buy pork in a special room in the supermarkets, and the room will have a large sign above the entryway that proclaims: "Pork Room. Muslims Forbidden."

Fourth, the quality of the produce section is decent but not spectacular. I sorely missed the tomatoes and apples from the farmers' markets this year! Nothing available out here compares to a ripe organic tomato or the crisp apples I made into endless pies last year.

However, the pleasant discoveries include the vast array of fresh fruit and the availability of fruit drinks of all types everywhere we go. The population of Dubai is very diverse, with the clear majority hailing from Pakistan and the Indian sub-continent, so the range of produce is extensive. I've discovered beef from Uruguay and pork from Kenya.

So, what about other expat Chowhounders? What have your experiences been like?

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